"The Book Convinced Him"

By Don L. Searle
Associate Editor

An Italian scientist set out to investigate the Church. The Book of Mormon passed his tests—and changed his life.

Don L. Searle, "The Book Convinced Him," Ensign, Mar. 1990, 50

For Mario Ottaviano, the answer was simple: No, his children would not take the religion classes at their school in Rome. An atheist, and a son and grandson of atheists, he believed in no religion.

But soon his children were coming home from school crying. They were the only ones in their school not taking the classes—the only ones who claimed no religion at all. Other pupils taunted them about their lack of belief. They wanted him at least to list some religion for them, even if they didn' t take the religion classes.

And so began Doctor Ottaviano' s search for the right church for his children. He had no intention of being involved with any religion himself. But his search would soon awaken a faith he had not thought possible in himself.

The doctor, a noted researcher in biophysical genetic engineering, approached the matter scientifically. He began by reviewing information about all the churches listed in a large catalog produced by the Vatican. Though he believed in no religion, Christian or Jewish, he was a descendant of Jews, so he automatically ruled out any anti-Jewish organization. Still, in the entire catalog, he found no church whose beliefs seemed to stand the test of logic. They were "empty," he recalls—basically churches of men.

His methodical search occupied months of his spare time. Finally, in a small book in his own library, he found a reference to the Book of Mormon and to a Mormon church. He checked his encyclopedia "to find out what Mormonism was, and who was this Mister Joseph Smith." Information in his encyclopedia was sketchy. A friend, a professor of religious history, assured him that it was a Marxist church. But Doctor Ottaviano was a leading Italian Marxist himself; he held educational positions in communist-affiliated organizations and was the founder of an Italian-Soviet educational and cultural exchange organization. He did not see how any religion could coexist with Marxism.

It was another friend, a teacher at the University of Naples, who gave the doctor some literature that explained basic beliefs of the Latter-day Saints. This material told him that God the Father and Jesus Christ are separate beings and both have corporeal bodies. "I felt it was true," he recalls. "No one had ever told me you should kneel down to pray, but I did it spontaneously." He felt he should learn more. "So then I began to search for this church. Where was the Mormon church?"

He found an address for a local LDS chapel, and he and his youngest child, Marco, visited there one Sunday morning. After making inquiries, he was introduced to two missionaries. He asked them to come teach their religion to his children—"only for my children, not for me and my wife." His wife, Stefania, also did not believe in any religion. As a researcher in a cancer ward for infants and children, she had been horrified by many of the things she had seen. Without understanding of the purposes of life (the church of her childhood had no answers for her), she refused to exercise faith in a god who would let such things happen to little children.

Doctor Ottaviano made it clear to his son and daughters that if they understood and believed what the missionaries taught, they could choose to be baptized in this church. But he intended to maintain his tradition of noninvolvement in matters of faith.

At first, the doctor stayed out of the missionary discussions at his home. He listened a bit at the missionaries' invitation, but when he was invited to participate, he declined, telling them that "it would be like a cat playing with a mouse." He found them "full of faith, but they lacked knowledge on many things." He made it plain that they were not on his level intellectually and educationally. Was there anyone in their church prepared to answer his questions? Yes, they replied, he should meet their mission president.

That meeting did not take place for some time, but Doctor Ottaviano and his wife listened to more of the discussions. She was initially more receptive than he because of her early religious training, but within a short time he found himself reading the Book of Mormon.

"The more I read, the more terrorized I was, because it was as though the voices of my ancestors came out of those pages," he reflects. In the course of his study, he subjected the Book of Mormon to various tests he considered scientific. In one twelve-hour period, for example, he read it from cover to cover, beginning at the back and making detailed notes designed to show him whether the book maintained its internal consistency. It did.

On occasion he would take small sections of the Book of Mormon to learned friends—rabbis, or scientists familiar with ancient texts—and ask them what they thought. They assured him the texts were authentic; from what ancient source did they come? The doctor did not tell his friends the source, since they would probably scoff at a book connected with one particular church. But he assured them that one day he would show them the book from which these passages came, and they could come to recognize the truth in it as he had.

On 4 December 1986, the day of his two daughters' baptism (Sahara and Ljoya had reached baptismal age, but son Marco had not), Doctor Ottaviano first met Dwight B. Williams, then president of the Italy Rome Mission. Three days later they had the first of what would be many doctrinal discussions. President Williams had no problem handling questions at Doctor Ottaviano' s own intellectual level, and sometimes the discussions would go on for hours.

The doctor became so earnest in his investigation of the Church that he quit his job and suspended his connections with Marxist institutes and associations, telling them that he would be indefinitely occupied and would not have time to be involved. His family lived on his savings and income from investments, in addition to his wife' s salary, for months while he devoted hours each day to studying of the gospel.

There came a day when President Williams told him that he had studied long enough; it was time to seek the help of the Holy Spirit in knowing the truth. But the doctor had already reached this conclusion on his own. "By now, all of my theological questions had been answered, and I was studying a bit of the structure of the Church." He realized that his intellectual reaction to the young missionaries who had taught his children had not shown the humility required when one is weighing eternal truths. He knew it was time to stop seeking scientific proofs of the gospel and to begin examining it with the heart.

Doctor Ottaviano recalls clearly the instant when he realized that he had a testimony of the Book of Mormon. He had been bedeviling a young sister missionary with questions during an intense discussion, and she slammed the book down on the table in disgust at his hard-headedness. It pained him to see her treat the book that way, because he knew it was the word of God. The next day, he went to his friend, President Williams, and set a baptismal date. He was baptized on 18 March 1987. Stefania was baptized two months later.

At times she had marveled at the intensity of her husband' s scrutiny of the gospel. How strange that it should take him away from the scientific studies he enjoyed so much! And he wondered, after his baptism, how his fellow Marxists would accept his decision. But when another Church member asked him if he planned to continue in his communist affiliations, Brother Ottaviano replied that of course he could not, because, after all, Marxism had previously been his religion.

Surprisingly, once he explained his conversion to them, his communist colleagues understood perfectly. Referring to his belief in the Book of Mormon, they reasoned: "Before you were Marxist, you were Hebrew, and this is the story of your people." They agreed that he must now follow the path he had chosen.

Looking back on the beginning of his search for a religion for his children, he believes it was appropriate that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not listed in that catalog of religions he studied at first.

"We are not a religion" in the same sense as those churches founded by men, he testifies. "We are the true faith." As such, he says, the Church does not need to be classified with religions of the world. It stands alone.

Gospel topics: Book of Mormon, conversion

[photos] When he came into contact with the Book of Mormon, Mario Ottaviano, left, wasn' t looking for a religion for himself, but a church for his children—Marco, Sahara, and Ljoya (left to right)—with Brother Ottaviano and his wife, Stefania, against the backdrop of ruins in the Roman Forum. (Photo by the Stock Solution.)

© 2004 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.  All rights reserved.


Giulia Trabuio: Her Fountain of Youth

By Don L. Searle
Associate Editor

Don L. Searle, "Giulia Trabuio: Her Fountain of Youth," Ensign, Oct. 1990, 56

"My children tell me that the Church has made me young, that I have changed," says Giulia Trabuio.

Her children must be right. Sister Trabuio's energy and vibrancy belie her age. In 1987, then in her early seventies, she completed nearly fifteen months as a missionary. Her children were pleased with her decision to serve a mission—even though they are not members of the Church—because of the difference they have seen the gospel make in her life. For the same reason, a daughter paid Sister Trabuio's way to the temple the first time she attended.

Sister Trabuio has been a member of the Mestre Ward, Venice Italy Stake, for more than ten years. In the ward, she is known for her willingness to work. She explains simply that she does everything she is called to do; then, if there is more to be done to serve others, she does that, too.

Sister Trabuio spent the first part of her mission in Florence and Rome with younger companions. But she enjoyed most her eight months in the Swiss Temple.

Despite her age and a few physical aches and pains, when there is an opportunity to make the trip to the temple in Switzerland, she still enjoys going and working from 6:00 A.M. until 9:00 P.M. "And the wonderful thing is that I don't get tired," she says. "When I enter the temple, I'm a different person. If I could stay there until I die, I'd do it."

[photo] Photography by Don Searle

© 2004 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.  All rights reserved.

Venite Fedeli:

Christmas in Bolzano

By Patrick Sean Hopkins

Patrick Sean Hopkins, "Venite Fedeli: Christmas in Bolzano," Ensign, Dec. 1990, 12

Elder Stout and I decided to have a prayer before going out again that Christmas Eve. We had arrived home from our last appointment, and I wasn't exactly eager to step into the freezing-cold Italian air again. But my companion thought we still had time for the Christmas project we had been planning.

"Please guide us to those with no special place to go," we asked. "Please help us to cheer those who are experiencing sadness and loneliness during the holiday."

I grudgingly rebuttoned the buttons I had so fervently unbuttoned minutes before as Elder Stout gathered up the Christmas gifts left over from what we had given our investigators—five Christmas candles decorated with construction-paper holly and aluminum-foil bases. We had made them ourselves during the weeks before while practicing Venite Fedeli, "O Come All Ye Faithful," to sing to those we found wandering around with no place to go on Christmas Eve.

We walked into the cold, deserted streets of Bolzano, and I apprehensively looked for someone to cheer up. I had only been in Italy for twenty days or so and, although enthusiastic about missionary work, still found it hard to approach strangers and talk to them in a barely learned language about things they didn't seem interested in.

A man started walking in our direction, avoiding our eyes. At least we weren't trying to stop him in the midst of a blizzard—the Dolomite Mountains protected the city and its Italian- and German-speaking inhabitants from the snow of the Alps. We managed to stop and talk with him, lit and gave him one of our decorated candles, and sang.

As we sang, the faraway look in his eyes faded away. Not only a smile, but genuine warmth came to his face. I felt good. The man walked away with new vitality, and my attitude about our plans for the evening changed. It wasn't going to be so bad after all.

Then, walking toward the center of the city, we met a gray-haired old man. He was wearing a thick jacket and hobbling over the Druso Bridge with the help of a crutch under his left arm. Elder Stout recognized him as someone he had talked to before my arrival in Italy. We presented him a candle and sang our carol.

He was thrilled. "Won't you come with me?" he asked in Italian marked by a strong German accent. "I'm on my way to church." We agreed and proceeded into town slowly so as not to rush his broken pace. As we walked, Elder Stout and he continued talking. My tongue still hobbled as much as our new friend when it came to speaking Italian.

As they conversed, I studied our friend and realized that, not withstanding the incredibly low temperature, the hand supporting his body on the crutch was gloveless. "Please take this glove for your left hand," I somehow forced out.

"No, no," he replied. "Many years ago I spent the winter in Russia as a soldier with less than what I'm wearing now. This is nothing compared to then."

We neared the church and noticed a large group of people waiting outside. Our friend yelled out, "Hey, these Americans want to sing for you and give you a present!" This wasn't exactly what we had planned to do, but we sang anyway and gave out one of the three remaining candles. Our friend stood off to the side and smiled.

The night was getting colder and colder, so when we finished, Elder Stout and I asked him to take a glove from one of us to protect his bare hand. Once again he explained that he had undergone winter in Russia many years ago and had suffered much worse.

Then a car stopped near the church, and a well-dressed woman and her young son stepped out. The boy was yelling, upset at the necessity of going to church on the night before his favorite day of the year. While the mother attempted to calm him down, our friend motioned us to them. As we followed his labored steps, he called out, "Hey, these American boys want to sing for you and give you a present!"

We knelt down eye-to-eye with the boy and made our presentation. As the boy, wide-eyed and silent, listened intently to our well-rehearsed carol, I could see our friend smiling and enjoying every minute. When we stood up to wish the mother a merry Christmas, we saw that she had been crying as we sang. She smiled at us, and, before we could say anything, our friend wished them a merry Christmas in a way that only Santa Claus could rival.

We echoed his wishes and turned back to tell our friend that we still had one more candle and planned to continue on until we found someone to give it to.

He looked at the ground and then turned back to us: "Well, it's too crowded here, anyway. Maybe I'll go on with you to a smaller church."

Happy to hear that we would still enjoy his company, we left to find another church. Our limping friend guided us through the quiet streets only to find the other chapel closed. As it got colder and colder, I kept remembering the hand of our friend, trying to sense what it would be like for my bare hand to remain frozen in one position, holding on to a crutch. We both offered our gloves, and again he refused.

As we walked away from the church, we saw two teenage girls walking dejectedly down the street. Within seconds, our friend was yelling, "Hey, these American boys want to sing for you and give you a present!" Remembering that we only had one candle left, not two for both, I became uneasy. But we lit the candle and gave it to one of them.

"What about the other girl?" our friend asked. After Elder Stout explained that we had just given away the last candle, our friend cried, "Wait!" and started fumbling through his pockets. He finally found the candle we had given him and handed it to the other girl. Elder Stout and I sang our carol while our friend stood by smiling. The girls began smiling, too.

When they walked away, Elder Stout said, "Well, that's the last of our candles. I guess it's time to go home."Our friend replied that he would accompany us as far as the other church. When we arrived, we wished one another a merry Christmas and went our separate ways.

Back in our apartment, Elder Stout and I knelt in prayer. We thanked the Lord for making it possible to touch a few hearts and shine a little light on saddened countenances. We also thanked him for the lesson that angels don't always wear white flowing robes but come in all different sizes, colors, and nationalities. Some walk with crutches.

Gospel topics: missionary work

[illustration] Illustrated by Susan Hansen

© 2004 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.  All rights reserved.


On the Move in Milano

By Don L. Searle
Associate Editor

Don L. Searle, "On the Move in Milano,"Ensign, June 1991, 68

Tullio De Ruvo should know the Church organization in northern Italy fairly well by now. There are two stakes in Italy, in Milan and Venice, and he has served as executive secretary in both.

He was called to be executive secretary in Milan after he moved there because of an employment opportunity. In his mid-twenties, Tullio holds a responsible position with a firm that imports and sells high-tech electronics equipment. He and his wife Francesca (whom he met through Young Adult activities before his mission) now have a young son. But not long ago (1984-86) he was serving in the Utah Salt Lake City South Mission.

Tullio joined the Church with other family members at age twelve after a strong spiritual witness of its truth. He recalls that when he was in his mid-teens, he found it difficult to hold to Church standards because of the influence of some of his peers. But at about seventeen, he began to turn back to gospel truths.

Shortly afterward, he was called into the army. It was fortunate that this came after he had begun his spiritual change. "It sounds strange, but my time in the army was probably one of the most spiritual periods in my life."He spent many hours studying the scriptures.

His study was good preparation for a mission. In Utah, he found his gospel knowledge tested by anti-LDS people he met in proselyting. His mission became a period of much more intensive, broader gospel study for him. Hungering to know more, Tullio built a library of more than one hundred Church books before returning home to Italy.

His mission experience has left him very missionary-minded. An enthusiastic, outgoing person, he doesn't hesitate to talk about the gospel at any opportunity. "If we could be more open with others in sharing what we have, the Church could grow much faster,"he says.

[photo] Tullio De Ruvo. (Photography by Don L. Searle.)

© 2004 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.  All rights reserved.